Outside the Gate

As we reached the end of Hebrews in my Sunday school class last week, I was struck once again by how there are texts which are so clearly at odds with mythicism, and yet which are explained away with a little hand-waving. One example is the reference to Jesus suffering “outside the gate” (Hebrews 13:12). Earl Doherty suggests that this is the gate of heaven, but that is not something that the author has thus far suggested. The author clearly presumes that readers know things not spelled out explicitly in the letter.

That leaves us as modern-day readers with two options. One is that there was a familiar myth about a purely celestial Jesus that the author could assume the readers knew, which mentioned Jesus being crucified outside the gate of heaven, and which has not survived in written texts. The other is that the readers were familiar with stories about Jesus suffering outside the gate of an earthly city, e.g. Jerusalem, and of course we have several texts from close to the time when Hebrews was composed which provide evidence for that.

Mythicism is clearly a much more complex hypothesis, with much less supporting evidence, than the conclusion professional historians draw. All it takes is historical reasoning and Occam's Razor to dispense with it as unlikely, and certainly less likely than the conclusions of mainstream historians.

That it continues to find supporters nonetheless shows evidence of just how capable human beings are of being blinded by ideology and preconceived assumptions – even those human beings who self-identify as “skeptics.”

 

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    That leaves us as modern-day readers with two options. One is that there was a familiar myth about a purely celestial Jesus
    that the author could assume the readers knew, which mentioned Jesus
    being crucified outside the gate of heaven, and which has not survived
    in written texts. The other is that the readers were familiar with
    stories about Jesus suffering outside the gate of an earthly city, e.g.
    Jerusalem, and of course we have several texts from close to the time
    when Hebrews was composed which provide evidence for that.

    -True.

    Mythicism is clearly a much more complex hypothesis,
    with much less supporting evidence, than the conclusion professional
    historians draw. All it takes is historical reasoning and Occam’s Razor
    to dispense with it as unlikely, and certainly less likely than the
    conclusions of mainstream historians.

    -This is nothing more than argument by assertion. I expected to see something that would show that the author of Hebrews‘ knowledge of a story about Jesus being crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem is more likely than that same author’s knowledge of a story about Jesus being crucified outside the gates of heaven.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      No, it is an argument that we should fill in what is left unstated by the author of Hebrews with information that is attested in texts from around that author’s time, rather than concocting other information that is not so attested. Anything may be true if we are willing to posit no-longer-extant sources which say things that our extant sources do not. Historians ought to work with the information we have, not merely explore every theoretical possibility, much less claim that the merely possible is more likely than the evidenced.

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

        No, it is an argument that we should fill in what is left unstated by the author of Hebrews with information that is attested in texts from around that author’s time, rather than concocting other information that is not so attested.

        -I am not a big fan of Brodie’s manner of comparing possibly related texts to establish literary dependence and I am not a big fan of the idea that

        we should fill in what is left unstated by the author of Hebrews with information that is attested in texts from around that author’s time, rather than concocting other information that is not so attested

        This leads to the same danger that Brodie’s manner of comparing possibly related texts to establish literary dependence poses-false positives. We do not know that the author of Hebrews read Mark or was even aware of the idea of an earthly crucifixion. I certainly do not see how the author of Hebrews‘s knowing a story about Jesus being crucified outside Jerusalem is “evidenced” from the text of Hebrews.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          We know by comparing Paul’s letters to the later Gospels that some of the traditions that eventually came to be included in the latter were known in the time of the former. That’s what I am envisaging – the author of the letter to the Hebrews knowing the stories, not the texts in which they were later written down.

          • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

            The authors of the gospels likely knew and copied concepts from Paul. It is unclear how Hebrews could be a source for the gospels’ idea Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Indeed.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    “[Jesus] Mythicist” is a label for people who believe that the Jesus story was totally made up. But there are several different views on that, aren’t there? Doherty is just one.

    Is there a label for people who believe otherwise? Like “[Jesus] Historicists”?

    When I started reading this post I was excited to hear an analysis of a few of the mythicist’s explanations for Heb 13:12. But it looks like we only have Doherty’s. Do you know if any other mythicists have addressed this passage.

    There is a huge variety of opinions between Historicists and some of their rationalizations for some Bible passages are just silly. Picking one to typify all Historicists and their methods would be an easy pickin’.

  • antiallanbloom

    One issue that I don’t think Ehrman really establishes but is obviously on the minds of JM’ers is hyper-skepticism. Ehrman quotes Paul and the Gospels to prove Jesus existed. Just b/c Paul says he met James, brother of Jesus does not mean he’s telling the truth. And they dismiss the gospels and NT out of hand as complete fiction, and therefore, cannot be used to establish the existence of Jesus. What they want is extra biblical confirmation that the Gospels and Paul are speaking truthfully.
    For example, there’s no independent confirmation of the massacre of the infants alluded to in Matthew, or the tradition of releasing a criminal like Barrabas over Passover. Ergo, Gospels are pure fiction. Is there evidence Jesus existed independent of the NT?

    Skeptics regard the NT as an invalid source of information unless proven otherwise. And the alternative explanation of course is JM.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Why would a skeptic adopt a view for which there is no evidence, simply because they are skeptical of the evidence that we do have? That seems like selective skepticism to me.

      But the truth is that such one-sided hyper-skepticism is itself unwarranted. Sometimes even extremely biased sources admit things that are uncomfortable for their position, and historians likely view such things as likely to be true.

      • antiallanbloom

        thanks for replying. I think part of the answer rests in the fact that the gospels is part of the Bible, with the OT being the other “half”. There is intense skepticism of the claims of historicity in the OT, including Moses and the exodus, Joshua’s conquests, David and Solomon, etc. Since secular archaeology has debunked most of the OT, obviously the NT should be viewed with this kind of skepticism “the NT like the OT is an invalid source of evidence for first century Palestine unless corroborated by either contemporary extrabiblical sources or archaeology.”

        One can be skeptical and reject BOTH HJ and MJ and still regard the NT as pure fiction.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I don’t understand why a mythicist would give these texts a special religious status. The conclusion of historians is that when the NT texts were composed, they did not have the status of sacred scripture. They need to be treated like any other literature, and not viewed in light of the status that Christians later accorded them.

          • antiallanbloom

            How do we reliably date these documents? For example,

            I know that scholars Mark is dated 70CE and Paul’s epistles 50 CE, but how do we know this to be true? Doherty dates Mark in the second century. Without Acts, there’s no way to date the Epistles. I’m sure you know Mythicists try to date these texts into the second century, enough time for “legendary” development. Are pastoral epistles, John Gospel and Thomas Gospel early or late? Does Luke rely on Josephus?

            Richard Carrier says he’s publishing a new book on this. I infer you don’t think Robert Price or Carrier has been using accepted standards in the historical critical method used by real historians.

            on youtube you see both Price and Carrier talking in front of large audiences explaining why they think Jesus didn’t exist.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbTbEvFSSF8

            He’s giving the interpolation argument for many key passages in the NT.

            Have you ever been invited to talk to audiences explaining the opposite?

            • Jack Collins

              We can establish a pretty firm terminus ante quem for many NT documents, based either on the existence of physical manuscripts, or references and quotations from them in more firmly datable sources. We can also establish relative dating based on signs of literary dependence (e.g., Matthew and Luke are probably later than Mark).

              We can say with almost absolute certainty, for instance, that some form of the Gospel of John existed by around 120 CE, because we’ve got a piece of it in Manchester. Given that John seems to represent a much more developed, complex theology, it is safe to assume that the synoptic gospels are probably earlier than this.

              We also have quotations from the Gospels and Paul’s letters in the writings of early Christians dating from 95-150 CE. These writings are a little easier to date, because they often contain references to contemporary events. It is pretty safe to say that the now-canonical gospels and authentic Pauline epistles existed in some form by the turn of the second century. Honestly, as ancient manuscript traditions go, the NT is much better attested than most. Compare our earliest manuscripts of Aristotle or Plato, or even the OT.

              • antiallanbloom

                I’ve wondered about dating John late based on “complex” Christology since Paul, the earliest witness has a very complex one, rooted in Jewish speculative wisdom. As for dating GJohn late b/c it shows conflict between Jesus and Jews, Paul himself described himself as a persecutor of Christians as does Acts. There does seem to be some “dialogue” between GJohn and GThomas such that if Thomas is early GJohn very likely is as well.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            The mythicists might give the texts a special religious status because the authors do so. The fact that they were not immediately recognized as scripture doesn’t give us any reason to discount the possibility that they were intended as religious propaganda.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Historians treat these texts as religious propaganda. Mythicists treat them as propaganda for a different religion than the one they are historically connected with, and that is the problem.

    • Jack Collins

      “Just b/c Paul says he met James, brother of Jesus does not mean he’s telling the truth.”

      As I pointed out on my own blog, it seems unlikely that Paul would make up a brother of Jesus, invoke said brother’s authority as a pillar of the church, and then admit that this brother disagreed with him. Paul may have been fibbing when he claims to have changed Peter’s mind, because that claim makes Paul look better. But why fib about something that makes him look worse?

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    In Hebrew 12:22, the author refers to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Why should we think that he is talking about an earthly city a few verses later? Shouldn’t we look to passages within the same text before we look to other texts?

    • arcseconds

      Hebrews 13: 11-14

      11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.
      12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
      13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
      14For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

      I suppose we could look back across several passages which are talking about other things into another chapter to pick up a clear reference to a heavenly Jerusalem, and think that this passage is also talking about a heavenly city.

      But this seems pretty strained to me. The earthly Jerusalem had a high priest, a most holy place, and had animal sacrifices, and the bodies burnt outside the camp seems like a piece of dirty detail that’s more likely to be about a real city.

      Then there’s the ‘here we do not have an enduring city’ which is definitely not talking about a heavenly city. It’s not entirely clear that this is the same city as the one that Jesus suffered out of the gate of, but if we’re to follow your advice and look to the text for other references to cities, then it’s more likely that a reference in the same passage is going to be referencing the same city than a passage several topics ago, isn’t it?

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Jerusalem may have had a high priest, but the author refers to sacrifices that took place when the people were in camp, so I don’t think that helps all that much in determining the city outside which Jesus’s sacrifice took place. On the other hand, you are correct about the gap between the reference to the “city of the living God” and the “city gate.” On the other hand, you are also quite correct that the author references the “city that is to come” again in the same passage so I guess I would say that there is some ambiguity about where Jesus’s sacrifice took place. However, I think that the first place to go in an effort to resolve the ambiguity is the text of Hebrews itself rather than other writings that refer to gates or cities.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I think that if you actually read the letter, not in small isolated verses but as a whole, you will find the the entire thing, from its early references to Jesus being a human being who entered the heavenly sanctuary to lead the way before other human beings, to its discussion towards the end, and correlate with other literature from the same period, there is one possible interpretation that is more likely than the others.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I have read the whole letter and what I find is many references to Jesus as a heavenly high priest who performs his priestly office in a heavenly tabernacle. So when the author compares Jesus enduring his suffering outside the city to the high priests burning the carcasses outside the camp, I think he is explaining why the heavenly high priest offered his sacrifice outside of heaven. There is nothing in the rest of Hebrews that leads me to believe that there would be any significance to whether Jesus’s sacrifice took place inside or outside an earthly city since his sacrifice was completely different than the ones that earthly priests offered. That is why I think that interpreting the city gate as the gate of heaven might makes sense.

            One the other hand, earth is outside of heaven so I can certainly see how the author may also be explaining why Jesus had to come to earth to suffer and die. As a result, I don’t see that interpreting those gates as the gates of heaven really advances mythicism that much.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              But what about the emphasis on this high priest having to have been of the same flesh and blood as those he represents? Does that give you the impression that the author envisaged Jesus’ entire existence happening somewhere beyond the human realm?

              Again, I am talking not just about this verse cross-referenced with other mentions of cities in the text. I am talking about the impression the entire letter in all its details conveys.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                No, those passages don’t give the impression that everything happened outside the human realm. On the other hand, passages like “if he were on earth, he would not be a priest” give a different impression. I have a hard time reconciling this and I’ll be interested to see what Carrier says about it in his next book.

                • jam

                  I’m also looking forward to Carrier’s new book. I’m curious to see what he will do with the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage in Paul. One would think that if Paul was referring to one of Jesus’ earthly blood brothers he would have written

                  “James, ‘a’ brother of the Lord,” not

                  “James ‘the’ brother of the Lord,

                  since according to the gospels Jesus had more than one brother. James “the” brother seems a bit more awkward construction than James “a” brother. On the other hand the definite article seems more appropriate than the indefinite one if all that Paul is saying is “Brother James,” especially if James had a high position in the movement.

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    This comment is doubly strange. To begin with, what matters is how one expresses things in Greek, not in English. But as it happens, in this case they are not dissimilar, and in English we typically say “James, Jesus’ brother” which is grammatically equivalent to “James the brother of Jesus.” We would almost never say “James a brother of Jesus” and would only say “James, one of Jesus’ brothers” if we had some particular reason in the context to allude to the others.

                    • jam

                      Hi Dr. McGrath.

                      It just seems if Paul was going out of his way to identify James as the flesh and blood brother of the lord, he would have said “James, one of the Lord’s brothers,” to more fully give a picture of Jesus for the reader who is unaware of Jesus’ family. That’s just my opinion though. That’s how I would have written the sentence to help provide some background context for an unfamiliar reader.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      This is a letter, written to a community Paul knew, and who knew whom Paul was referring to. We don’t write letters to known recipients with an eye to a possible audience in the distant future that might find the letter and not understand.

                    • jam

                      I think you’re confusing “that” the community knew about Jesus, and “how much” the community knew about Jesus.

                    • arcseconds

                      I think you’re confusing calling people by a name with intending to inform people about that person.

                      If I told you “I talked to James McGrath” I’m not trying to tell you that he’s of Irish extraction or descended from someone called ‘Graith’. I’m not depending on you understanding anything about Irish patronyms or intimate knowledge of Graith, whomever he may have been.

                      All I’m trying to do is tell you that I talked to him, and not to James the brother of the Lord or James Brown or James VI of Scotland and I of England.

                      However, it’s nevertheless quite probable that James McGrath actually is of Irish descent.

                      It’s even more probable that someone like William, son of Freskin really is the son of someone called ‘Freskin’.

                      Is it possible that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ is some kind of nickname with an origin in something other than a familial relationship? Sure. Just as it’s possible that William son of Freskin originated in some other way than William’s father being called ‘Freskin’, or James McGrath originally being James Magrowski but changed his name.

                      But these aren’t the possibilities to bet on.

                      Say, McGrath, do you pronounce the ‘th’ on your last name?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      What I wonder about is the extent to which “brother of the Lord” was simply an identifier used to distinguish this James from others with the same name in same way that “the Just” was used later on..

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Sure – but identifiers mean something, and one that was equivalent to “Christian” would not have distinguished him from other Jameses in that movement.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      The only thing necessary to distinguish him would be that the other guys named James were called something else. “James the Just” did the trick even though we would probably not assume that every other James was unjust. What distinguished “Simon the Zealot” was the fact that the other Simon was “Simon Peter,” not the fact that the other Simon was unzealous.

            • jam

              Isn’t the idea of “the gate of heaven” a later addition? There are later images of St. Peter at the “gate of heaven,” but when did the idea of heaven having a “gate” come into the tradition? Would the author of Hebrews even have thought of heaven that way?

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                Jam,

                The author of Hebrews thinks in terms of “the city of the living God, a heavenly Jerusalem.” The idea of heavenly gates could have flowed pretty naturally from the idea of heavenly cities.


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